Having begun serving the Homer area in 1976, Peninsula Funeral Chapels opened Homer Funeral Home on Diamond Ridge Road in 1986.
“Just because someone lives in Homer doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the same services we provide in Kenai,” said owner Tim Wisniewski of making available to the southern Kenai Peninsula the same traditional funeral services, funeral pre-arrangements, cremation and monuments as the Kenai location. “We didn’t live here, but we wanted to offer people the same thing as if they were in Kenai.”
The Diamond Ridge site not only eliminated the Homer-to-Kenai drive for Homer clients, but also was conveniently located near Hickerson Cemetery.
Now, Wisniewski has opened a second location in Homer that is closer to town and offers an area large enough to comfortably accommodate gatherings of 30-40 people plus a separate viewing area.
The building, on the corner of Main Street and the Sterling Highway, was remodeled by Doug Green Construction. New tile and carpeting have been installed. Walls have been freshly painted. Curved windows draw in a southern view. A vaulted ceiling makes the 576-square-foot building roomier. The interior design and furnishings combine to create a peaceful environment. A paved parking area also has been added.
Wisniewski and his son, Grant, are third and fourth generation funeral directors in their family. It began with Wisniewski’s grandfather, passed along to his mother, continued with Wisniewski and his cousins and now includes his son.
An opportunity to work for a former Kenai mortuary originally brought Wisniewski to Alaska from his home state of Ohio.
“When I got the job I asked what the facility looked like and they said it was ‘kind of frontier.’ In my imagination I was thinking of the worst funeral home I’d seen in Ohio,” said Wisniewski.
What awaited him was an eight-by-20-foot trailer that fell short of even those low expectations.
What Wisniewski has built since opening his own business is “something I’m really proud of.”
Similar to many industries, funeral homes have experienced change, as Wisniewski has noted over the years.
“The big ‘Taj Mahal’ places are going away and people are asking for less and less all the time,” he said.
What isn’t changing, of course, is the need for the service Homer Funeral Home provides.
“A lot of people think ‘if I die,’ but it’s not ‘if.’ It’s ‘when.’ That’s just the reality of things,” said Wisniewski, who encourages individuals to plan ahead, rather than leave decisions to grieving family members. “It saves a lot of trouble when people tell you what they want.”
His years of experience provide Wisniewski with a collection of stories to illustrate his point.
“When Bob Hope was getting up in years and his days were numbered, his wife asked him, ‘Bob, what kind of arrangements do you want me to make?’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you surprise me,’” said Wisniewski, smiling. “So, it’s all left up to those of us that are here unless you plan ahead. It sure saves a lot of trouble when people tell you what they want.”
That reminds him of another story, one about a big family in which the siblings argued different viewpoints about what they thought were their deceased father’s wishes.
“The mother was sitting there and said, ‘Are you finished?’ And she pulled out a paper with ‘pre-need’ written on it and you didn’t hear another word,” said Wisniewski of pre-arrangements that answered everyone’s questions.
Aware of Alaskans’ penchant for creating their own traditions, Wisniewski said he and his staff provide guidance to help accommodate individual wishes.
“Over the years we’ve had a lot of people build their own caskets and do their own services,” he said. “I think it’s kind of cool for people that want to do that. The only thing we really ask is that we sit down and go over everything. We just want to go through the process with them so they know exactly what to do.”
In spite of more than 80 miles separating Homer and Kenai, Wisniewski said he and his staff would come when needed “as quick as we can.”
“We try to do things by appointment to begin with, but Homer is getting busier and eventually we do want to keep regular hours down here,” said Wisniewski. “We’re only an hour and a half away. It’s not like we can’t make it the same day.”
A website also has been developed to help answer questions and provide forms.
“We’ve always tried to do our best,” said Wisniewski. That commitment also applies to the work that’s been done on the new Homer Funeral Home site and landscaping planned for 2015.
“This makes me feel good,” said Wisniewski, looking around. “I’m already thinking of what we can do next summer.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer Funeral Home
Owner: Tim Wisniewski
New Homer location: Corner of Main Street and the Sterling Highway
Other Homer location: 66615 Diamond Ridge Road; phone: 235-6861; staffed as needed
Other locations: Peninsula Funeral Chapels, Kenai, 907-283-3333; Anchorage Funeral Home and Crematory, 907-345-2244; other locations in Palmer and Wasilla